Leading lady

I had another great coaching session this afternoon and want to write about a concept that I explored with my coach, Erika – that of leading my life like I’m the leading lady in it.

Since I was younger, I’ve had the impression that (for the most part) I’ve been the side character in other people’s stories. I’ve listened, consoled, been part of things but have not been the central character in my own tale.

I’ve, of course, had moments, relationships and twists in my life where I’ve felt at the centre of my own universe. But for a great part I’ve felt like someone on the side lines.

If I’m honest, I think this is a large part of why I suffered with various eating disorders in my youth. Trying to push myself down to fit into a smaller space. Feeling like I should need less from others. Complying with what I felt was being asked of me even if it wasn’t something I had the energy for or if it was in my best interest.

I lived small.

But I’ve started to unfurl over the past years and I’ve realised that I’m sick of playing a minor character in my own story.

I want to be my own leading lady and I want to take some time to ask myself what this means.

It means recognising that I only have set resources, energy and time. Especially when I return to work in July. I’ll be split between my job (which I love), my son (who is my top priority) and everything else. I won’t have time and space to give away freely and even if I did, I want to live intentionally. Not saying ‘yes’ to everything, I want to choose what I spend my time doing.

It means allowing me to be myself. Embracing all that I am. The parts of me that are kind, funny, thoughtful, generous and interested in others. But the other less palatable parts of me – like how I feel like I’m stubborn and difficult instead of being easy-breasy. How I’m complex and need time and space to process things. How I’m a geek, I love my work and love learning new things – I need to be constantly challenged to be happy. Acknowledging that this will mean that not everyone will like me, but that’s ok.

It means viewing myself intrinsically as a leading lady. Being the centre of my life and sharing what is going on for me in whatever way I choose to do so. I see my life as leading lady being one where I have my close circle of friends who I invest my energy into – it’s in these close relationships that I truly feel at my best.

And I also see myself being present to all the lovely people I have the pleasure to cross in my life without feeling obliged to give more than I can to them. No need to accept invitations I don’t want to accept. No obligation to invest more than I am able to.

I felt scared about writing this post and sharing my thoughts with you, dear friend, because I worried that you’d think me big headed (wanting to be the leading light – I sometimes don’t feel worthy of this) or would take offence at the notion that I’m anything other than grateful for the interest that other people show in my life. But I thought I’d act like a leading lady and start to do what is right for me – part of that is writing this.

And I also decided to share my thoughts because I believe that we don’t act as our own leading ladies (or men!) enough and I wanted to encourage you to be your own leading star in your life. Go after your dreams, create a life you long to live.

Because as much as I think that I deserve to be my own leading lady, I also think that you deserve to be yours.

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The sort of person I am…

I spoke to a good friend recently about how I tend to back down if someone tells me that I’m incorrect about something. Faced with their conviction about being right, I assume that I must be in the wrong.

I suppose it’s a good way to be in part as I’m open to the ideas and thoughts of other people. But I also find that it makes me concede on things that are important to me, makes me avoid or give into differences of opinion or confrontation at work and also removes the fun from many activities (pub quizzes are no fun when you constantly doubt yourself when faced with a difference of opinion!).

I had a conversation with my husband, Gregg, the other day about cheeky wipesa reusable baby wipe set we have. I said I wash them at 30 degrees and he said he read in the instructions that they needed to be done at 60 degrees. Only a small matter but still, it made me panic to think about how the wipes must have been unsanitary to use on Jenson and the germs I had spread to our other clothes that had been washed with the wipes.

Two days later, Gregg mentioned having re-read the instructions which said to wash them between 30-60 degrees. So I had been right! But had doubted myself!

The friend I spoke to about this made a great point that I’m the sort of person who would read the instructions properly and this got me thinking…

What if I took more confidence in the sort of person I am instead of doubting myself when faced with individual differences of opinion?

I would have more faith in myself. I’d enter into dialogue (“that can’t be right, I’m sure I read you could wash them at 30 degrees“) instead of doubting what I know. I’d ask for evidence of what the other person was saying before backing down.

It feels good to think about taking more confidence in the person I am. It’s a small shift in mindset but one which will allow me to stand firm in who I am and what I know.

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The merging of worlds

I remember the day that I actively shared my first blog post. I had written five just for me – not showing anyone else – and had decided that I wanted to put myself and my thoughts out into the big wide world of Facebook and Twitter for my friends to see.

I was so nervous to be sharing my writing because I was being so candid online about my struggles as well as my victories, my conflicting thoughts as well as that which I’m truly passionate about. But I knew it was important for me to take this step and share my thoughts with others; it was important for me to start to speak up in this world. I suppose it came from the desire that I have put into action as a coach – a desire to speak up and be heard and a desire to now support others to speak up and be heard themselves.

And I’ve been surprised ever since by the support I’ve received – countless people who have read my posts and, in doing so, encouraged me and my writing.

It’s become so natural to share my words with friends that I don’t even think twice now about posting them online to you, dear friend – whether it’s about my struggles with comfort eating, tearing my hair out in frustration about my people pleasing habits, my worries about how I will be as a parent and whether I’ll be bored out of my skull as a mother… So thank you for the time you’ve spent reading my words because it’s such an encouragement to know that they matter to you.

But despite settling into the world of sharing my inner thoughts on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been feeling the call for a while now to post onto LinkedIn. I’ve been aware of the growing chasm between my personal life and my ‘professional’ online persona – two worlds yet to merge. I want to have no difference in how I show up in my personal life and at work. Still, I felt nervous about posting onto LinkedIn, partially because of the seesaw of conflict within me.

What if people read what I’m putting out there and think less of me? If they do think less of me, do I really care? Are they people whose opinion matters (or should matter) to me?

What if future employers read my words and decide that I’m not the right person to offer a job to? Would I really want to work for a company like that? And what if a future employer reads my words and reaches out to me because they decide I’m exactly the right person to offer a job to?

What if people see my coaching profile on LinkedIn and, as a result of the articles I share, choose not to work with me? My highest value – the thing that is the most important to me in life – is authenticity. How can I put myself out there as an authentic coach but only present my picture perfect persona?

And so regardless of my misgivings and anxiety, I started to post articles on LinkedIn…started to merge my work and personal life. I first shared things selectively – musings that had some relevance with the professional realm as much as they were to do with my personal life but, pretty soon after that, I just decided to let go and share everything – to see how things evolved…and I was blown away by the result.

Some people contacted me with thanks for what I had shared, others expressed interest in working with me as a coach and there were some who chose to click through to my website to read more about what I have to say. Like when I started to share myself on Facebook, I felt humbled, encouraged and so grateful for the connections that started to emerge.

So what have I learnt from this experience? A hell of a lot! And many lessons I hope will stay with me for the long run…

  • No-one will be liked universally by everyone but sharing of myself with honesty and authenticity is the one true way to find my band of people in this world.
  • I should give people more credit – all I have received from posting my thoughts to my professional network is acceptance and encouragement.
  • We all desire real, honest connection (whether in or outside of work) and sharing of myself in this way is how I can create a world where people feel able to show up just as they are.

So I’ll keep on writing, keep on posting and keep on merging my professional and personal worlds.

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Going back

I’ve got a lovely book that I dip in and out of by Mark Nepo. It’s called the one life we’re given and it’s a reflective book with questions at the end of each chapter to ponder.

I woke up slightly early yesterday morning and spent 15 minutes reading one of the chapters. I loved what it said and wanted to share it with you. It can be pretty much summed up as this:

At every point in our life when we take a brave step forward, we will often want to turn back at some stage. We’ll look back to who we were before – before we took the new job, before we decided to abstain from our unhealthy addition, before we decided to speak up more and be seen by other people – and we will want to go back to the ‘safe’ life we were living before. It doesn’t mean we should go back to this life, but it’s healthy to recognise that this is normal. This is part of life. 

I know this to be so true in my life and I thought I’d spend a few minutes reflecting on my experience with you, dear friend.

My experience can’t be summed up as a one incident, something that happened or a specific event. But it is, over the past 6 months, a revelation that eating to suppress my feelings will never do me good. It will never give me greater abilities to cope with what’s going on in my life. It will never grant me true peace.

All it can provide me with is momentary oblivion from my feelings and then a thud back to reality with an extra heaping of shame and the discomfort of having eaten too much.

But it still doesn’t stop me from having a sort of rosy-tinged reminiscence of the times that I could blank out my experiences. It was ‘easier’ to block out my feelings than to have to cope with them in the moment. It was less hassle to eat away hurt than confess to someone that I was feeling disappointed, angry or sad by something they had done. It was quicker to push down my anxiety with food than surrender to the anxiety in order for it to then be released.

But now I know that it is no good for me, I can’t unknow it. Now I see my relationship with food for exactly what it is, I can’t deny the truth.

And so I acknowledge that this fondness for the past is normal – I won’t judge myself from sometimes wanting to go back to my abusive, unhealthy relationship with food.

But I won’t turn back, instead I’ll keep moving forward.

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Poor as I am

I’ve been up tonight with one of the only side effect I’ve suffered with in pregnancy – mild insomnia – and after lying here in bed for an hour thinking about things (life, relationships, the past, the future) I thought I would get some of my ponderings onto this blog and hopefully get back to sleep.

With December fast approaching, and with it the due date of my son’s birth, I’ve had the words of some Christmas carols in my head lately. The one that is going around my mind in the early hours of this morning is ‘In the bleak midwinter’. Or more precisely, the final verse of this song:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

And here’s what these words have triggered in me at 3am:

Calling

Sometimes we have a role to play in life. Like the wise men or shepherds in the nativity. But other times we don’t. Like with the post I wrote yesterday about just being, we might be called to just be there for someone – to witness their pain or to offer up our friendship. And that role can be enough. In fact, this role can be the most valuable one that we can provide.

Reality

This carol isn’t the usual one, speaking of glory and triumph at God coming to earth. In fact, it’s a very strange song which, apart from being quite jumbled up in its message, speaks of incredible difficulty next to immense glory.

And I think that sums up life quite well.

We may all be faced with incredible difficulty and suffering in life – for me, I see this as part of the human condition. But in that difficulty, there can be immense beauty. Although we might find ourselves face-down in the mud, we can also find a wonder in the strength of standing back on our feet.cropped-cropped-ctl-logo-01.jpg

Showing up

I had my final coaching training last weekend and, as always, took something from the coaching I received from my peer coaches. This weekend’s ‘aha’ moment came from some coaching given to me by a lovely lady called Fatima and I want to spend a few minutes sharing what I realised with her help.

So here it goes!

In the morning of the first day, we had 30 minutes to talk in groups about all the successes we’ve had on our coaching journey. I was really excited to share that I had just about achieved my 40 hours of coaching practice and was on the way to completing my coursework to become an accredited coach. This is really big for me as I’m keen to get all the work done before my baby comes along. I was really pleased and encouraged to hear about the successes of other people too – we’ve all grown so much over the 6 months of training.

But I also felt sad that so many people shared how they were talking to their friends at length about coaching when I rarely talk to my friends and family about it. Even when I do mention this stuff, I hold back as I hear a voice inside me saying “Why are you talking about this? You’re boring people. They don’t want to hear about this stuff. What’s wrong with you?”

And so I invariably keep quiet, write about my experiences avidly on this blog but only share a little of what is important in my life when I’m face-to-face with my closest friends and, even then, I often wait for them to ask me questions before opening up and sharing more with them.

This realisation prompted me to open up in the coaching session with Fatima and I explored with her why I share so little face-to-face with people.

I realised that I often feel ashamed of what makes me light up because I feel like I’m a bit much. A bit different. A bit unacceptable.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that my friends or family do anything to make me feel this way. And in my most bad-ass moments, I feel like an Amazonian warrior in my difference. I feel like an outlier in a Robin Hood-type way. I feel unique.

But then other times, I feel like a child in a playground, left out and different from the normal children.

Fatima was great in the coaching session – she gave me all the space I needed to explore my thoughts about this area. Thoughts that are so often unsaid even to myself. But then she asked me a surprising question:

“How do you know that people would be bored by your interests? What tells you that they’d think less of you for what lights you up?” 

I told Fatima that I often tentatively drop something into a conversation. Perhaps a comment that I’m going on a coaching training weekend, am spending time this weekend writing a blog post, have just got a new coaching client. And unless the person I’m talking to shows complete enthusiasm and interest in my comment by their tone of voice or by asking me questions about what I’ve said, I’ll assume they’re not interested in what I have to say and will deflect back to them and away from me.

And so the circle continues of me feeling unimportant, an outcast, different. And then I talk less about myself or, if I do talk about me, it’s areas where I know we have common interests. Safe topics.

But then Fatima asked me another question:

“What do you do to show people you want to talk about your topics?” 

And this had me stumped.

In that second, I realised that I wait for people to bound towards me with unabated enthusiasm to show that they’re interested in me, that they want to hear more, but I don’t show them that I want to talk more about coaching…my blog…whatever it is that I’ve mentioned.

And so if I want to share more of myself, I need to start doing this. I need to start showing, in whatever way feels right (my tone of voice, my enthusiasm, my willingness to share) that I want to talk about these things with other people. 
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Yes, it feels scary – putting myself out there. It could result in me being rejected or having my heart trampled on by others…but like this amazing quote by Brené Brown, it could also lead to me feeling truly and completely seen in my life, it could lead to me living a more courageously, it could lead to me connecting with those I love on a deeper level.

And so I’ve started to give it a go – I’ve started to share with others my experience of coaching. And I’ve been really surprised by the result.

People have been interested, open, curious, willing to listen. And although I’ve found my words stilted sometimes and I’ve doubted what I should say…have been unsure what I’ve wanted to say, I feel less like I’m on a desert island all by myself.

I see that I’m surrounded by people who care for me and love me just as I am. And I see that it was perhaps my own fears that were making me feel different, alone, an outsider, when the truth is that I’m anything but that.

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Resonance

Sorry, dear friend, in advance of all the posts I’m most probably going to write whilst I’m away on holiday.

I usually bring a notepad away with me to dream and ponder and plan and hope but when I was in the shops pre-holiday, I asked myself ‘do I really need a new notepad?’ and I found myself saying ‘no’ in line with my new found ‘do I really need it‘ philosophy.

I’ve got some paper so I can do some lone contemplation but I’m probably going to write down and share a lot of my thoughts here, which I hope is ok with you…and at this very moment I want to share how I’m really feeling a resonance of some words I’m reading in a book by Brené Brown called Rising Strong. It’s a book with the premise that if we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This book gives an exploration of how we might rise again when we find ourselves face down in the dirt, having tripped, stumbled and fallen whilst trying to live a life of true authenticity.

The three sentences I want to share with you from her book called out so deeply to me. They push and challenge me to keep on going with my journey of finding more courage, truth and love in my life because they are where I long to be:

“Wholehearted living is engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

If I could bottle up my aspiration for my life, and that for the people I love (you included, dear one), it would be that we live wholehearted lives. That we know deep inside us that we are enough, worthy of love and belonging.

The tricky thing for me to grasp my head around is how we can just be worthy as an inherent trait. Like Déscarte’s ‘I think, therefore I am’, should I feel ‘I am, therefore I am worthy’?

I want to believe this, yet it challenges the very way I have lived my life for so many years…feeling only as worthy as what I do for people…and how I quite honestly don’t think that others are worthy of my love and friendship just as a fact of being. I mean, there are some people I don’t like (because we have nothing in common, I don’t share their values and principles) and there are some people who don’t like me (because I have nothing in common with them and don’t share their values and principles).

I suppose writing these words down makes me realise that there are other questions that rise up in me – whose love and belonging is it that makes me enough?

And suddenly I sense an ‘aha!’ moment.

Could it be that I’m basing this enoughness, this love, this acceptance of belonging on external people when really the true measure is that I’m meant to base it on is myself?

Could it be that I’m enough for myself and that’s all that matters? Worthy of my own love? Worthy of my own acceptance and belonging?

Could this be enough for me?

I want to wait and let these thoughts ruminate and percolate…and I’ll let you know what comes of this mindset shift.

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Weakness or courage

I shared with you recently how vulnerable and bruised I felt at my coach training weekend where I broke down in tears in front of my peers.

I’ve been mulling this experience over for a few days now and reflecting on what one kind person in my class reached out and shared with me:

When we share the deep, hard things going on for us with other people, we feel we’re being weak. Especially if we show emotion, like I did when I couldn’t hold it together in front of my class.

We assume that other people will find us weak and wanting and will judge us for not having the strength to cope, to be ok, to manage by ourselves.

However, when we see someone sharing something hard, grappling with difficulty, admitting their flaws and doing their best in the place that they are, we see them as being courageous.

Having the courage to show up, to not pretend that ‘they’re ok‘, the courage to name what they’re struggling with.

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And when I heard these words, I felt fully seen, fully supported, fully accepted by that individual and by my class. I was able to let go of the shame – the feelings that I was somehow flawed for feeling as I did, for struggling as I was.

It was a beautiful feeling.

One that I want more of in life.

So let us fully connect and be real with each other. Share our highs and our lows, our struggles and our triumphs. And know that by being fully ourselves and owning our truth, we are not being weak, we are showing true courage.

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